Remembering Richard Roundtree: An Iconic Actor and Trailblazer

Remembering Richard Roundtree: An Iconic Actor and Trailblazer
Remembering Richard Roundtree: An Iconic Actor and Trailblazer

Richard Roundtree, the iconic actor known for his groundbreaking portrayal of the title role in “Shaft” and his significant contributions to African American masculinity in film, has sadly passed away in his Los Angeles home at the age of 81 due to pancreatic cancer. He was also celebrated as the trailblazing “first black action hero.”

Released in 1971, “Shaft” was a pivotal film, marking one of the earliest entries in the Blaxploitation genre, characterized by modest budgets and a departure from mainstream production norms. This movie not only catapulted Roundtree to stardom at the young age of 29 but also left an indelible mark on cinematic history.

Born on July 9, 1942, in New Rochelle, New York, Roundtree was the son of John Roundtree and Kathryn Watkins Roundtree, who worked as a butler and a cook in the same household, as per the 1940 census.

Roundtree attended New Rochelle High School, where he played for an undefeated football team. He graduated in 1961 and initially pursued a football scholarship at Southern Illinois University. However, his life took a different turn when he spent a summer as a model with the Ebony Fashion Fair, sponsored by a prominent Black news and culture magazine. This experience led him to New York, where he embarked on a successful theater career by joining the Negro Ensemble Company.

Following his iconic role in “Shaft,” Roundtree made diverse choices in his movie roles, including “Earthquake” (1974), “Man Friday” (1975), “Inchon” (1981), “City Heat” (1984), and “Q” (1982). He also made a significant impact on the small screen, starring in the acclaimed mini-series “Roots” (1977).

Throughout his career, Roundtree received numerous accolades, including the African-American Film Critics Association award in 2011 and the MTV Movie + TV Award in 1994 for his role in “Shaft.” He earned a Golden Globe Awards nomination in 1972 and was recognized at the Soap Opera Digest Awards, among other honors.

While Roundtree’s name is closely associated with the 1970s, he continued to work actively for the next four decades, appearing in numerous TV series and films. He showcased his versatility as an actor in various roles, highlighting his talent and adaptability.

In 2020, Roundtree portrayed a fishing boat’s captain in “Haunting of the Mary Celeste,” and in 2022, he made a memorable appearance in an episode of “Cherish the Day,” a romantic drama series created by Ava DuVernay.